Art Rite of Spring

 (The Ballet Piece)

I took a ballet class in high school and one day our teacher showed us a video that changed how I viewed dance. It was a piece called The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and music written by Igor Stravinsky. The video is the Joffrey Ballet performing in 1989, after the piece was revived. It was originally performed in 1913 in Paris.

This piece is far from beautiful. Even after seeing it several times, it is hard to get past my initial disgust. It is a far cry from Swan Lake. The piece depicts a Russian tribe and the daily tasks. The men and women wear the same outfits-long, ill-fitting dresses, and laced up boots. Some dancers have dramatic face makeup on. There are no perfect lines like in a traditional ballet-here the dancers are pigeon-toed, with curved backs and bent legs. The movements are repetitive, usually the group jumping up and down or stomping their feet. Later, more brightly colored clothing comes in, but the movements are still repetitive as the group moves together. When they jump, their knees come together while their feet go apart, and they land flat-footed. A featured dancer is an old woman, and her back is constantly hunched and she hops around the stage. While the movements are ugly, it is easy to see that these movements and positions are very challenging.

But the more you watch the video, it is easier to see past the unfamiliar movements and see the skill. They all move in groups, and staying that in sync is very difficult. All of their ballet skills are still present-their jumps are graceful even when they are ugly, and they are able to do stiff and discontinuous movements with ease.

When this piece was first shown, it was only performed eight times before it was shut down. At the premier, people were outraged. They hated the movement and music, and they felt that they were being mocked. Many people yelled and screamed, threw things at the dancers, and left. After eight performances, the piece was closed by force. 1989 was the first time anyone attempted to perform it again. This clip here is a movie that includes the dance and the reaction, called The Riot at the Rite (They start showing the reactions around 6:40). I have never seen this movie, but I like how it shows how people reacted.  It also features the dancer’s reaction to the outrage.


The film Riot at the Rite


  • How would you feel if you expected to see a traditional ballet piece and you saw this? How would you react?


  • How can people appreciate this piece now?


  • The dance, after the premier, was not seen again for decades. However, the music composed by Stravinsky is considered an influential piece of the 20th century, and it is still appreciated today. Why do you think the music was better received than the dance?

Chrissy O’Connor


11 thoughts on “Art Rite of Spring

  1. WOW. So I watched the clip and was honestly waiting for the audience to burst out into a brawl. If I was paying to see what is supposed to be a polished performance I would be very disappointed but, I would probably sit through the whole thing. I am not a fan of dance in any form so I do not know how people would appreciate it. I did watch several minutes of the 1987 performance by the Jeoffy Ballet and there is a huge difference in the performances. The original clip just seamed like a bunch of locals putting on a show; conversely, in the 1987 performance I could tell that these are classically trained professional dancers because their movement are so fluid, ever when they try to look clumsy.
    After listening to the music it is obvious that the score was performed by professional musicians. I was nice to listen to and I think that people may have enjoyed that.

  2. I also used to take ballet classes and the first minute or two of them dancing I was in complete shock because they way they move isn’t proper or graceful. There moves and costumes are usually the kind you would see if you go to a normal Ballet. But just like you as i watch more i begin to notice small elements that actually make this piece very unique and quite good. I do notice that their jumps are graceful and that they move as a group. i think the music was much more appreciated because there are many different types of music but i think when people go to see a ballet they almost kind of expect a professional one with ballerinas and graceful moves.

  3. Thanks for posting the video, I’ve heard of the Rite of Spring and the response it originally got in other classes but never seen any of the performance or heard the music. To me the thing that stands out the most is the change in public attitudes towards the arts over the last 100 years. If the Rite of Spring was released today, or something that was currently controversial, critics would say they didn’t like it or they thought it was a poorly put together performance—most likely there would be no outrage or rioting. Overall attitudes towards art have become considerably more relaxed in the last century.

  4. I don’t know anything about dance. I have seen ballets before and the girls doing it look so pretty and the dance moves are amazing. Before i opened the link I was expecting a sophisticated act just like I mentioned earlier and I was very disappointed to see it. While i was watching it I was thinking wow what is that they don’t even look good. However, I noticed that the dancers were very well coordinated. I think that the people who know how to dance and all the moves like you mentioned would appreciate and like the act more than people like me who know nothing! Thanks a lot though for sharing a different side of ballet that i had never seen before! 🙂

  5. I found this ballet interesting. It wasn’t as bad as I expected from reading the post. This seemed too modern for the time. If this were released in the theaters now I don’t think there would have been much of a stir. Maybe people were not ready for such an abstract ballet. This is probably similar to the way people reacted to abstract art when it first started.

  6. I know nothing about ballet or dance but even though it wasnt traditional ballet I enjoyed it. I guess I would be disappointed too but those people were so rude. Like they even came prepared with whistles.

  7. I love this! it reminds me of the work of John Cage– I wonder why it seems like it would be harder to make a radical change in the art form of dance rather than visual art…..

  8. This is interesting. It reminds me of something that would be done now with the purpose of “going viral”. I wonder if the choreographers had that in mind? That they were purposefully trying to shake things up? I bet they did ; )

  9. I actually found the ballet piece to be very entertaining. I didn’t think it was awful by any means but then again, I don’t know anything about ballet. I think people were just shocked because it was something completely different from what they’re used to seeing. If people were to see this now, I’m sure there would be a greater number of people that would find it entertaining. Art is also subjective. How I feel about a certain piece may not be similar to how others feel about it.

  10. Awesome post! It was good to transition into live forms of art! When I was watching the clip I felt like I was watching a live version of a controversial painting being revealed in a museum and people just appalled by the context. Rite of Spring is so far from traditional ballet even from today’s ballet; however, that’s what makes it so captivating and strangely beautiful.

  11. The mere thought of attending the ballet has me both perplexed and intrigued. For one of my other classes, music, I was to attend a live opera performance and anticipated seeing La Traviata, but it was not meant to be, at least for this semester. I have never attended an opera, but I think I know what to expect when I do. Had I gone to La Traviata and it turned out to be completely different from my expectations, I would have been disappointed. So I can see how anyone expecting to see ballet, in 1913, and seeing the unique presentation of Art of Spring, would be confused and perhaps disappointed. This type of movement, which brings to mind modern and interpretive dancing, would seem more appropriate nowadays and be appreciated but I’m sure purists will always exist and not be okay with such dancing regardless of era.

    I believe the music was better received because it lets the listener conjure his own interpretation. That it is classical allows it to stand alone.

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